What I Know Now After My Adult Study Abroad Experience

What I Know Now After My Adult Study Abroad Experience

One night in 2019, I was once again feeling restless and stalled in my career.

I’ve been a full-time freelance writer and editor for a decade. Though I love what I do, freelancing is unstable and tricky to navigate. Not to mention I’m a freelance journalist, a profession that has been going extinct for decades. This makes it even harder.

Five years into freelancing, I was starting to think more seriously about my future. Though I was making a comfortable living, I wasn’t making enough for things like buying a house or retirement. I thought it might be time to go corporate again. But as I read job listings, I realized I was in a catch-22. My experience was too journalistic for general writing jobs, but not journalistic enough for traditional news. 

Eventually, I had that thought every 30-something writer has…

I should go to grad school.

The next thought:

If I’m gonna spend this much money, why not go all-out and do it abroad?

I started looking into journalism and communications postgraduate courses overseas. After applying to three schools, I accepted a place in University of the Arts London’s Media, Communications, and Critical Practice course. In September 2021, I set off for London. I was 35.

While an adult study abroad experience comes with challenges, it comes with far more benefits. I’d recommend it to anyone considering it–in fact, I think it’s better to study abroad later in life. So if you’ve been struck by the “I should go to grad school” bug and want to do it up big too, here are five things to know about studying abroad for adults. It’s more possible than you think.

Jody Amable's UAL Student ID - What I Know Now After My Adult Study Abroad Experience

Cost of a Master’s Degree Abroad

Just to be fair, I looked into some master’s programs in the United States, too. Most of them were well out of reach financially. Programs in the US are typically multiple years long, whereas I found several one-year courses at UK universities. The course I eventually went with ran for only 15 months. This made it about $10K less than the price of my American back-up school (sorry, Berkeley). All told, the total was about two-thirds of tuition alone for some of the more prestigious American programs I was considering.

However, this may not always be the case. Studying abroad comes with fees that domestic programs don’t, like application fees or local social-welfare fees (for example, the UK requires student visa applicants to pay into the NHS). If you’re paying from an American bank account, you’ll also encounter foreign exchange fees or wire transfer fees. This may cause your total balance to creep closer to the cost of a US course.

Photo©Ideal Insight - The Entrance, and the Elephant and Castle of LCC - What I Know Now After My Adult Study Abroad Experience

Fitting in as an Adult Student

I assumed my coursemates would be younger than me, and thus wouldn’t want anything to do with me. I was fine with that–it’s totally understandable that they’d want to hang out with people their own age. The other students were, on average, about 12 years my junior. But to my complete surprise, I made several close friends (we’re still in a group chat together). I know that seems unlikely, but, as master’s students, there will likely be a requirement that students have educational or professional experience in the subject you’re studying. You’ll start off the school year with something to bond over. There’s even a chance they’ll look to you for advice and inspiration.

If you’re worried about fitting in, look into social groups offered by the university. You can also search for social media groups started by students from your incoming year. In my case, the school had a Discord chat for incoming North American students. This helped me make connections before I arrived–one of the people in the chat was in my course as well. It made it easy to walk up to her on the first day and introduce myself.

Photo©Ideal Insight - The Upper Gallery, Workshop Block, LCC - What I Know Now After My Adult Study Abroad Experience

Living in Halls as an Adult

Like in the US, your options for housing when studying abroad are private rentals or accommodation arranged by the school. I chose to live in student housing because, after factoring in things like internet, energy, and council tax, I would have only been able to afford living with roommates. Quite frankly, at this point in my life I am done living with roommates. Most dorms (sorry–they call them halls in the UK) my school offered had studios, and utilities were covered. Living in halls also saved me from having to scramble to find an apartment before I got there. (Everyone told me this was nigh on impossible unless I was already in the country.)

It’s actually not that uncommon to be an adult in student housing. Prior to leaving for London, I met two other 30+ women through the Discord who were also living in halls. One of them was in my same building, and ended up being my next-door neighbor for my final term. I also noticed a handful of other people in my building that looked close in age to me. There was even one woman who must have been in her 50s.

Your housing options will depend on various factors like your school, your financial situation, and the terms of your visa. Your school’s administration likely has information and advice on how to find housing during your time abroad. If you’re in contact with people from your university, you can ask if anyone has recommendations of local housing websites to use. Some schools also have societies for older students, where you might be able to find roommates in your age demographic.

Photo Credit_University of the Arts London -A Look at a London College of Communication Campus Block - What I Know Now After My Adult Study Abroad Experience

Working as an Adult Study Abroad Student

Chances are your visa will come with restrictions about how many hours you can work. For me, it was 20 hours or less per week, and no freelancing. However, most part-time jobs are tasks we associate with teenagers. It may feel uncomfortable to go back to slinging coffee or waiting tables after climbing the corporate ladder. However, you may have to since most likely, mom and dad aren’t footing the tuition bill this time.

I was extremely lucky that my school had its own temp agency. I was able to pick up enough work through them to keep myself afloat. Your school may have a job center that can point you toward work that’s suitable for your immigration situation.

You should also check your visa to see if you can do a remote job based in your home country while overseas. In addition to temping, I also did some remote work with one of my old jobs in the US. All my piecemeal part-time work helped me afford groceries and the occasional night out.

Photo by Jarvis Jun - Jody Amable Recording a Student Podcast Project - What I Know Now After My Adult Study Abroad Experience

Student Loans for Adult Study Abroad Students

During the pandemic I worked two part-time jobs, one of which was the best-paying job of my entire career. By the time that job ended in summer 2021, I had saved enough to cover tuition and housing in full. Luckily, the other job was one I could legally continue while in the UK. I planned to continue doing it to cover day-to-day expenses.

Unfortunately, my department was shuttered three weeks before I was due to leave. I had already paid my first installments for tuition and housing, so there was no going back at that point. Student loans were my last hope to make sure I had enough to get by once I got there. I applied in a rush, and was able to secure them just in the nick of time.

In the United States, there are student loans available to adult study abroad students. I wouldn’t recommend taking out loans unless you find yourself in a desperate situation like me. But if you’re interested, you can find more information at the Federal Student Aid website.

Photo by Ana Blumenkron - A Student in the Photography Studio LCC - What I Know Now After My Adult Study Abroad Experience

Enjoying the Study Abroad Experience

As an undergrad in San Francisco, I spent a lot of my first year in my dorm room. I had only lived an hour away from the city all my life, and had visited many times. But learning the ropes of a new “home,” especially a major city, felt so overwhelming and scary that I hid indoors.

I’ve grown in leaps and bounds since then, but I am still, by nature, an introvert. I was worried that I’d come all the way to London and find myself scared of my surroundings again. That I’d waste this incredible opportunity watching Netflix in my room.

As an adult, however, I felt much more empowered to familiarize myself with the nooks and crannies of my neighborhood. I’m so glad I did. I lived in a suburb in south London called Lewisham. There, I found beautiful parks, a favorite pub, and cozy cafés to write my thesis in. Lewisham has a reputation amongst locals as a gritty area of town. But summoning my courage to simply go for aimless walks around the neighborhood showed me a side of it very different from the stereotypes. I still feel deeply connected to and fiercely proud of Lewisham. Even as I sit here 5,000 miles away in my native California. As Florence Welch says, South London Forever.

Photo©visitlondon.com_Jon Reid - A View of the lastminute.com London Eye from Southbank - What I Know Now After My Adult Study Abroad Experience

What I Learned

Studying abroad as an adult may seem out of the ordinary. It may even seem a little out of touch–like you’re succumbing to Peter Pan syndrome. But taking a year off to focus on something I’m passionate about was the most gratifying experience of my life. I have truly never been happier than when I was in my neighborhood coffee shop, or in the humanities reading room at the British Library, writing. (I still have a note on my phone that ranks all the reading rooms by vibes; Humanities Room 3 had the best lighting and the most comfortable chairs.)

It also allowed me to grow in ways I didn’t think were possible at my age. For example, for my first few months in London I was constantly in situations that clashed with my introverted, easily-stressed personality. Things like meeting new people, setting up a local bank account and phone number (and finding out how hard it is to do one without the other), and completing a massive year-end project. (And that one time I struggled through a call with a TfL customer service agent with a REALLY heavy accent.) But having conquered these things has made me much more secure in my professional, problem-solving, and even social abilities. Especially my writing ability: One of my career goals is to write a book, but I never thought I could write anything book-length. Now that I’ve written a 15,000-word thesis, a book seems like a breeze.

Photo©visitlondon.com_Antoine Buchet - The Lewisham London Underground Station - What I Know Now After My Adult Study Abroad Experience

Conclusion

Though adult study abroad can be more beneficial than studying abroad as an undergrad, it’s not feasible for everyone. You may have financial, familial, and professional constraints that prevent you from flitting off to another country for the better part of a year. Or you just might think it’s too big of a risk for this stage in your life. I certainly did: I remember sitting at the gate at SFO with a knot in my stomach, my clothes and hair soaked with stress-sweat, certain I was making the most expensive mistake of my life. It turned out to be the best thing I’ve ever done for myself. I think everyone deserves the confidence and self-assuredness the adult study abroad experience gave me. So if you have the means and the desire to do so, whip out your laptop and Google “UK master’s programs” like I did in October 2019.

Are you interested in studying abroad? Check out Tips About Studying Abroad for excellent insights about studying overseas. 

23 thoughts on “What I Know Now After My Adult Study Abroad Experience

  1. I can see how you’d have to take a few extra steps to find like-minded people when you’re an adult student. I think it would be a fantastic experience.

  2. I think it would be such an amazing adventure to study abroad as an adult. You’ve outgrown all the craziness, and you can just focus on learning and exploring.

  3. Bravo and appreciate your sharing, life is a huge lesson and we should never stop learning. Thanks for the insights and I think it will inspire some other people.

  4. This was such a great read; I’ve thought about going to study abroad, but being an adult, I’ve wondered if it would be a good experience. Now I know! :)

  5. I loved reading of your experience of studying abroad, especially at an older age. I do think that we study best at the right time in our lives no matter what the age

  6. I wish I had the opportunity to study abroad back when I was in university, that I think, would have been a very rich experience.

  7. Studying abroad as an adult offers a rich, immersive experience that goes beyond academics. Your reflections on the challenges and rewards are truly inspiring for anyone considering this path.

  8. Oh wow, I’m glad you were able to secure your student loans. That must have been a very harrowing experience and I’m glad it worked out. I’m sure studying abroad has so many wonderful experiences attached to it.

  9. It is so brave to go back to school as an adult. I do hope it gives you the stability you’d like to have

  10. What a great read! So cool that you chose to doing a master abroad. I’m sure you have inspired many people and I wish you the best on your journey.

  11. Studying abroad has always been a cool concept to me. Really interesting to hear about how it works and your experiences with it. Thanks for sharing!

  12. Your insights on studying abroad in the UK were really insightful! It’s helpful to hear about managing costs and loans in a foreign country. Thanks for sharing!

  13. It can be an interesting experience to study abroad as an adult. It can be a great learning experience and force you out of your comfort zone.

  14. That must have been such an exciting experience for you to come and do your masters abroad. I can’t believe the price difference between the UK and US as to me tuition fees in the UK seem expensive x

  15. Being an adult student can be challenge but studying abroad? It must be an exciting adventure for you. A complete new fresh start. Congrats on taking a bold step.

  16. I see studying abroad as an adult can be an exciting and enriching experience. I studied abroad as a 19-year-old and my experience was very overwhelming, after the first month I was more settled and limited my call home to once a day instead of 5-7 times a day.

  17. It must be so good to study abroad. I always wanted to study abroad but was not that confident staying in different country. Your experience is really so interesting.

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